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February 17, 2019

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Penny Pibbets: ‘Absinthe’ = ‘Cosby Show’ – sweaters + more unicorns

Backstage at 'Absinthe'

Leila Navidi

Absinthe” performer Penny Pibbets gets ready in a trailer outside Caesars Palace on Friday, Oct. 28, 2011.

The Gazillionaire & Penny Pibbets

The Gazillionaire and Penny Pibbets from Launch slideshow »

While Robin Leach heads to the East Coast and London before his traditional summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy — plus, the Amalfi Coast this year — many of our Strip personalities have stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. We continue today with the stars of “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace: The Gazillionaire, his assistant Penny Pibbets and singer Melody Sweets.

By Penny Pibbets

Ask anyone who lives in Las Vegas, and they’ll tell you: Everybody visits Sin City at one point in their life. Everybody! Through the years, gazillions of people have marched through Las Vegas, for work or play, filled with an urge to destroy their wallets, bodies and minds until there’s some kind of change in them.

Now they will have a story to tell their friends back in Iowa,* with their eyes open and spit spraying like the Bellagio Fountains, regaling their trip with slight exaggerations. “Absinthe,” the show I perform in night after night, fulfills that, excuse the pun, “slot” in everyone’s adventure in Las Vegas.

Every day I slop on my makeup, and before I enter, I skim the audience to see who is sitting in these seats and paying us to help them ignore their lives filled with car payments and dying relatives.

The families, the burners, the burlesque artists, the ones on drugs, the tattooed freaks, the gay couples dressed to the nines leaning in and whispering to each another, the businessmen, the escorts, the rows conquered by douche-y white guys in Ed Hardy or scandalous women with their breasts propped and served on a platter for the High Wire Boys to peek at, the large groups of Pakistani friends, the bachelorettes and all those ugly things they wear to stand out. I love them all! I love every audience member.

Slowly, as we share this air and space underneath the tent, we turn into a family. We learn quickly who we are and who we’re with. It’s pretty much like a “The Cosby Show” episode except with fewer sweaters and more unicorns.

My name is Penny Pibbets. I help The Gazillionaire, the producer and vilely scrumptious host of “Absinthe,” introduce the magically talented circus that performs in an intimately lavish tent outside Caesars Palace. What we say and do is not for everyone. We constantly dance on the line of what is appropriate and what isn’t. We berate — and describe sexual acts in detail.

A person’s relation to sex, or laughter for that matter, is so personal, and yet we see it in their instinctual reactions immediately. Sometimes it seems as if everyone is electrically charged and connected, our jokes bouncing and feeding their laughter and their laughter fueling our jokes.

Sometimes, our family seems hungry and alive. The spectators feel like they have to contribute, screaming their own jokes, often terrible, from the sidelines. You can see it in their turned-down faces, like Muppets, or hear it in their bright, lingering laughter that makes the tent seem to split. In our circular tent, with the seats squished into one another, you can’t escape us.

Penny Pibbets' Las Vegas Nightlife

1230. Launch slideshow »

We’ve performed more than 1,000 shows, and we’re still going. Here are some of my favorite audience members I watch for:


Husbands choking and covering their mouths while their wives are thoroughly offended. Lively women breaking free from their controlling husbands and agreeing to go onstage. Awkward couples sitting together for the first time and bonding through tears of laughter. If you really want to get to know someone, bring them to “Absinthe.”


(It's a funny thing.) People sitting in the front row sometimes have no idea what they’re in for. One woman’s solution to dealing with The Gazillionaire was simply not looking at him. “If I can’t see him, he doesn’t exist.” Her eyes closed as if he was The Boogeyman.


I brought my mother to see the show. She loved it. Old(er) women are some of my favorite audience members. Give them a chance to not be invisible, and many women will surprise you. I know it’s difficult to imagine your own grandmother face first in a hot platter of DD breasts, but it’s happened; it happens quite a bit, actually. Usually, it’s the biggest reaction of the night.


Always eager to help, Indians (from India) never disappoint. Even if their timing is weird, it’s always entertaining. They also have the best smiles.


The dad. The mom. The little brother and older sister. Nothing says awkward more than laughing at the same fellatio joke as your dad. You’ll never see mom the same way again.


Many come to the show ready to not have a good time. Sometimes there’s that conservative uncle/aunt with his/her arms crossed, scowling like a gargoyle in Notre Dame. No matter how hard you try, they sit there not smiling, and you can’t help but admire their unmoving stubbornness. But sometimes, in these great moments, they break and accidentally smile. And, for a moment, they seem quite human.


The Gazillionaire does not filter. No matter who you are, if he sees you, you are on the battlefield. Little people are not exempt. They are still part of the audience. In one instance, there were two little people spotted in the crowd. One black and one white. In a highly orchestrated battle, two large men like warriors in an epic war carried them onstage. It felt like “Game of Thrones,” the audience roaring as their tongues were out and erect like swords. And as they pressed them together, I actually kind of teared up.

There are more stories, some more graphic than others. Not one show is like another. You never know what people will do or say. They are the variable. There are different and amazing people in this world, and we get to meet them and give them a chance to do something out of the ordinary. It’s not brilliant or genius what we do; we just know how to throw a great party.

*Can be replaced with any other quaint state.

Check out our other guest columns today from the two other “Absinthe” stars, and on Wednesday look for guest columns from Scott Willis and Wade McCollum, two of the lead actors from “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” at The Venetian, and guest host Ian Ziering of Chippendales at The Rio.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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